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BERGER: World-class wine in New York?

GENEVA, N.Y. - Dornfelder, Blaufrankisch, and Zweigelt. Sounds like a German law firm, but in reality they are wine grapes that may be the key to unlocking New York's wine future.

I visited three superb Seneca Lake wineries here last week, nearly 32 years after I first toured the Finger Lakes and discovered the potential for great wine.

I was no visionary. I merely listened to earlier pioneers, tasted a few experimental wines, and have been a keen, almost annual visitor to this fascinating American wine region.

California, Washington and Oregon are the nation's premier wine-growing states. Two decades ago, if you even mentioned a fourth, someone would suggest psychiatric aid.

Today there are at least 10 other states that have shown the potential to make world-class wines, though most wine magazines (with ads to sell that support a revenue base) take scant notice. That New York leads the pack is these days almost a given.

Skeptics and cynics would argue that a state rampant with Concord grapes (mainly for grape juice), and saddled with such obscure wines as Seyval, Cayuga, Catawba, Diamond, Vidal and Chancellor cannot seriously use the phrase "world-class."

Such talk is mindless, notably in the face of what New York has accomplished with arguably the world's greatest grape variety, Riesling. Finger Lakes Riesling today holds its own against the best Rieslings in the world, and in numerous blind competitions has come out on top.

Dry Rieslings from the three properties I visited last week, Anthony Road, Fox Run and Red Tail Ridge, are so stellar they should be on every New York City white-tablecloth restaurant wine list. Few are.

The old saying about not being king in your own land holds true. New York wine directors who have failed to keep tabs on the local industry may recall blah wines from decades ago and said no-thanks to current wines.

But times change. The three wineries I visited are operated by brilliant vinous strategists who share a vision with Riesling that's overwhelmingly impressive.


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